Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2007

In the News:

Rock from the Sky not a Meteorite - A rock that was originally identified as a meteorite that crashed though the roof of New Jersey home last January appears to be actually a piece of space junk. Analysis by experts at the American Museum of Natural History using a variable-pressure electron microscope revealed that the object that measures 3 inches by 2 inches is a stainless steel alloy that does not occur in nature. The origin of the object is still a mystery, but it is likely that it is debris from a satellite or rocket launch. The incident started when a Freehold, New Jersey, homeowner entered his second floor bathroom and found the object on the floor and a hole in his roof.

September Supernova the Brightest - Scientists have calculated that a supernova observed back in September of 2006 was the brightest ever seen. "The reason we're so excited is because it was so powerful we think it may require a new type of explosion mechanism that we've never observed before," said Nathan Smith, astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley. A supernova occurs at the end of the lifecycle of some stars when of most of the material within the star explodes. Most supernovas are only bright for a couple of weeks, but the supernova of last September got more brilliant for 70 days peaking with brightness comparable to 50 billion suns, much brighter than most other supernovas. Scientists believe that the supernova expelled many of its outer layers in an eruption before its violent collapse so that when it exploded, the pressure wave plowed into the cooler gases that had already been expelled, creating the most brilliant light show ever observed.

King Herod's Tomb Found - An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the tomb of King Herod, the legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who has been working at the site since 1972, said the tomb was found at Herodium where Herod had built a palace compound. The tomb was discovered when a workers found the remains of a limestone sarcophagus. The location of the sarcophagus and appearance suggests that it is Herod's. "It's a sarcophagus we don't just see anywhere," Netzer said. "It is something very special." Experts are excited about the find saying that all signs indicate the tomb belongs to Herod. They caution, however, inscriptions need to be found to be sure.

Big Dinos Heard Low Sounds - A new study shows that dinosaurs were best at hearing very low tones. Scientists reached this conclusion by examining the anatomical ear structure among living birds, crocodilians and the fossil remains of dinosaurs. The results, presented this month at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, also suggest that dinosaurs produced noises like the sounds they could hear. "As a general rule, animals can hear the sounds that they produce," lead author Robert Dooling noted. The scientists found that an animal's weight is significantly correlated to the size of the its inner ear structure, which determines what frequencies that animal could detect. Dooling and his colleagues estimate large dinosaurs were restricted to low frequencies below 3 kilohertz.

At 13.2 Billion Star is the Oldest - Scientists have identified the oldest known star. The star, designated as HE1523-0901, is 13.2-billion-years-old and came into existence a mere half a billion years after the "big bang" that started the universe. The star's age was identified by examining its spectrum, which showed the presence of heavy elements like uranium and thorium. Heavy elements decay into lighter elements over time serving as a clock to measure how long the minerals in the star, has been around. There may be other stars out there that are just as old, but HE1523-0901 was born in a section of the galaxy heavily polluted with heavy elements, making it easy to identify.


What's New at the Museum:

Benedict Arnold: The Father of Our Country? His name is synonymous with the word traitor, yet, if things had gone a little differently, could this infinitely complex man been the hero of the American Revolution? (Part 1) >Full Story

Notes from the Curator's Office: Revisiting the Big Three: Isaac Asimov- They had a huge impact on our world far beyond just science fiction. The first of three parts about these great authors of the 20th century. >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Big Packaderm vs. Little Sport Device - Could an elephant have the same momentum as a golf ball? - Anonymous.

The easiest way of thinking about momentum is the force necessary to stop a moving object. It involves both the mass of the object and speed of the object. Technically, in classical physics, this can be expressed as the mass of the object multiplied by its velocity. The formula is:

P = mv

Where P is the momentum, m is the mass and v is the velocity.

If we had and elephant that weighed 7200 Kg (about 15840 pounds) running at 1 meter per second, the elephant would have:

7200 kg m/s = 7200kg 1m/s

That means that 7200kg is the mass, 1 meter/second (m/s) is the velocity and 7200 kg m/s ("kilogram meters per second") is the momentum.

It is easy to see a trivial situation where any two objects, no matter the size of their mass, would have the same momentum. Any object that has no velocity has no momentum. So both an elephant and a golf ball would have the same momentum if neither were moving.

There are also cases where the elephant and the golf ball could have the momentum even if they were both moving. Imagine our 7200 kilograms elephant from above and a golf ball weighing .046 kilograms. If we set up the equation with the elephant on the left and the golf ball on the right:

MV = p = MV


7200kg 1m/s = 7200kg m/s = .046kg V m/s

we just need to solve for the V, the velocity of the golf ball:

7200kg 1m/s = 7200kg m/s = .046kg 156521 m/s

We can see that an elephant running along at 1 meter per second has the same momentum as a golf ball moving at 156,521 meters per second (around 351,000 miles per hour). So an heavy elephant moving along at a trot would have the same momentum as small golf ball going very, very fast.

Now, a couple of additional considerations. This is the formula for momentum under classical (Newtonian physics). The formula under relativistic physics is slightly different and allows for objects like photons, which have no mass, to still have momentum. Also a complete description of momentum for an object includes the direction (or vector) of the motion.

Have a question? Click here to send it to the curator.


In History:

Loch Ness Photos - In June of 1975 the Academy of Applied science released two pictures their automatic cameras had taken underwater in Loch Ness, Scotland. Though the pictures weren't clear due to the murky water, one seemed to show the upper torso and neck of a strange creature. The other seemed to show the animal's horse-like head. Various observers have thought these pictures showed a prehistoric monster, a dead stump, and a engine block with exhaust pipes. So far no explanation of the photos has satisfied all parties involved in the Loch Ness Monster mystery.


In the Sky:

Catch Vesta - Want to try catching an asteroid? The asteroid Vesta (the fourth asteroid ever discovered) should be visible in the night sky this month to the naked eye, but you might find it helpful to use binocular. Look for Jupiter in the Southeastern sky rising after sunset. Vesta will be just seven degrees higher up (the full moon is 0.5 degrees wide). Vesta will appear in the constellation Ophiuchus. You may need to look for it over several nights. You will be able to tell it is not a star because it will change position each night compared with the rest of the night sky.



Hoaxer Admits Creating Dead Aliens - John Humphreys, a sculptor and who worked on special effects for Doctor Who and created the character Max Headroom says he was responsible for the models of the Roswell aliens dissected in hoax footage that first appeared in 1995. His partner in the hoax, Ray Santilli, a London-based video distributor, had claimed he bought the footage from a retired American military cameramen. Humphreys says that in addition to creating the bug-eyed alien models that were filled with sheep brains and chicken entrails, he also appeared in the film as the chief surgeon. According to Humphreys it took four weeks for him to make the models from latex using clay sculptures and all the filming was done in London, not New Mexico. Humphrey's comments come in the wake of the release of the film Alien Autopsy, which is dramatic portrayal about the creation and impact of the original hoax footage. Alien Autopsy is currently in release in Great Britain.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Great Escape - Experts dig into World War II's most daring and technically ingenious prison break. On PBS: June 5 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Robo Sapien: The Secret Revolution- What if you could think faster? Remember more? Wirelessly connect to the internet without a computer? Robo Sapien puts you on the cutting-edge of Neuro-Engineering where scientists are seeking ways to interface our brains directly with machines. On The Science Channel: Jun 07, 9:00 pm Jun 08, 12:00 am Jun 08, 4:00 am Jun 08, 10:00 am Jun 09, 1:00 pm ET/PT.

King Tut's Mystery Tomb Opened - In the first tomb found in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in 84 years, scientists find seven coffins, plus a golden infant-size coffin. One coffin remains sealed and the race is on to read the markings and lift the lid. On The Science Channel: Jun 11, 9:00 pm Jun 12, 12:00 am Jun 12, 4:00 am Jun 12, 10:00 am Jun 16, 4:00 pm Jun 25, 10:00 pm Jun 26, 1:00 am Jun 26, 5:00 am Jun 26, 11:00 am Jun 30, 5:00 pm ET/PT.

Passport to Pluto...and Beyond - NASA's New Horizons mission is exploring the "new frontier" of the outer reaches of our solar system, solving the mysteries of Pluto and beyond. Meet the scientists who have waited their whole lives for this mission and see what surprises they'll reveal. On The Science Channel: Jun 19, 8:00 pm Jun 19, 11:00 pm Jun 20, 3:00 am Jun 20, 9:00 am Jun 23, 8:00 pm Jun 23, 11:00 pm Jun 24, 3:00 am Jun 24, 4:00 pm Jul 03, 10:00 pm Jul 04, 1:00 am, ET/PT.

Rise of the Feathered Dragon - Follow the work of paleontologists in remote northwestern China as they search for fossil evidence to the origins of modern birds. On the Discovery Channel: Jun 21, 8:00 pm Jun 22, 12:00 am; ET/PT.

Triassic Giant - Ichthyosaurs were swimming, air breathing creatures that resembled whales and dolphins. A team excavates the giant fossil from a riverbank in British Columbia that is believed to be the largest Triassic ichthyosaur ever found. On the Discovery Channel: Jun 21, 10:00 pm Jun 22, 2:00 am ; ET/PT.

The Universe: The End of the Earth: Deep Space Threats to Our Planet - Asteroids, comets, gamma ray bursts and the sun all combine to make the Earth a dangerous place to live. NASA's top brass and other scientists are arming themselves with the latest technology to pre-empt an apocalyptic attack. Watch and investigate bizarre, and terrifying apocalyptic scenarios and the ways that scientists are racing against the clock to develop technology to defend our planet. Rating: TVPG On History Channel: Tuesday, June 12 09:00 PM Wednesday, June 13 01:00 AM Friday, June 15 11:00 PM Saturday, June 16 03:00 AM; ET/PT.



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